Israel closed off Palestinian-administered areas of the West Bank on Wednesday to limit the spread of the coronavirus, an official said.
“From today, a closure has taken place in the West Bank,” said Yotam Shefer, who heads the international department of COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for civilian affairs in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
He told journalists the decision had been made in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority government, based in Ramallah.
The border crossing with the Gaza Strip has been closed in recent days and will remain so, Shefer added.
The 70,000 Palestinians in the West Bank with permits to work in Israel, who cross back and forth daily, now have three days to either enter permanently for the next one to two months or remain in the West Bank, the PA government announced Tuesday night.
Palestinians who work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank will still be allowed to cross over daily, Shefer said.
Israel has imposed tough restrictions on its citizens to slow the spread of the deadly virus.
People have been ordered to stay at home except for going to buy food or medicine, seeking medical attention or traveling to workplaces where no more than 10 people are present.
So far 427 Israelis and 44 Palestinians have been infected, but no deaths have been registered.
On Tuesday, the PA’s Bethlehem governor, Kamel Hamid, ordered security forces to tell residents of the neighboring village of Beit Sahour to not enter public spaces, the official PA news site Wafa reported, after three people there tested positive for the virus.
Video broadcast on Palestine TV, the official PA channel, showed security forces using a loudspeaker to tell residents to stay in their homes unless absolutely necessary.
PA government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem said the three newly infected people, two women and a man, had been under home quarantine, but one of them did not abide by its conditions.
A resident of the Beit Sahour, who asked to remain nameless, said Wednesday morning that almost no people were outdoors.
Palestinian authorities said that, as of Tuesday night, there were 40 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Bethlehem area and four in other places. However, they said that the condition of 20 cases has begun to improve.
Shortly after Palestinian health authorities confirmed the first cases in the West Bank in early March, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency for 30 days.
PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has since announced the closure of schools and universities, the cancellation of all hotel reservations and conferences, the shuttering of tourist and religious sites, the banning of public gatherings and protests, and other measures.
On Tuesday, Shtayyeh announced that movement between Israel and the West Bank would be cut off in three days. He also suggested that Palestinian and Israeli authorities had agreed that Palestinians who work in Israel should arrange sleeping accommodations in the Jewish state before the three days elapse, Wafa said.
Shtayyeh’s comments came after Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said Tuesday morning that the minister had ordered authorities to allow Palestinians working in “essential sectors” in Israel to spend the coming one to two months in the country, with their employers finding a place for them to stay.
Bennett’s office said that these “essential sectors” currently include health, agriculture, construction and caregiving, adding that authorities would consider allowing those working in other fields to stay in Israel on a case-by-case basis.